City Council Postpones Decision On Controversial Cannabis Laws

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After almost two months of public hearings on amendments to Berkeley's medical marijuana laws, city council members, "cannabusiness" representatives and the Medical Cannabis Commission remained in a deadlock over several key issues at Tuesday's city council meeting.

The Medical Marijuana Subcommittee proposed a set of amendments to current medical marijuana laws Tuesday. Due to the late hour - the session concluded after midnight - and the controversy surrounding the issues under discussion, the council decided to postpone a decision until July 6.

Discussion of the proposal not only included the familiar topics of taxation of "cannabusiness" and zoning ordinances, but it also considered issues that had until now been less prominent, such as fears of a cannabis monopoly and city-mandated self-incrimination.

Many speakers voiced frustration that the proposal did not include a provision to regulate and tax collectives. Kris Hermes, a member of the Berkeley Medical Cannabis Commission, said such regulation would grant protection to growers who can be subject to raids by the federal government.

"The city is basically saying ... 'Go ahead and keep doing it if you want to, but there's no protection for it,'" Hermes said in an interview Wednesday. "People are still being prosecuted for it."

Hermes added that the tax revenues could prove lucrative for a city wary of tightening its belt.

"It's very puzzling why the city doesn't want to go down this path," he said. "The city stands to make a huge amount of revenue ... if they regulated and taxed (collectives) correctly."

However, Mayor Tom Bates said regulation of collectives is "impossible."

"We don't know how to tax them, we don't know how to regulate them," he said. "It's like stepping into a minefield."

Another concern was the limit on dispensaries in the city, currently three, but potentially four under the proposal. Several speakers said they feared the limit on dispensaries would create a monopoly.

Bates dismissed the criticism, saying there are three different markets for marijuana in Berkeley - the dispensaries, the cooperatives and the black market.

West Berkeley resident Ralph Crowder disagreed.

"Berkeley should not put all its medicinal eggs in one unsafe basket," he said, adding that if there were a raid on a local dispensary it could impact the availability of medical cannabis.

The very requirements of the proposal could potentially lead to raids on local dispensaries, said Hermes. The proposal requires financial records of dispensaries be made available to city officials for auditing, and if the city has the records, the federal government may have access to them.

"That is tantamount to self-incrimination," he said. "These facilities are in violation of federal law."

Bates said he did not think it was "unreasonable" for the city to have access to dispensaries' financial records given that all licensed businesses in the city are subject to audits.

The proposal would also bring the Medical Cannabis Commission under city purview, said Hermes. While Hermes alleged the proposed change to the makeup of the commission was the council's attempt to "get its hands in the pot," Bates said currently "it's the fox guarding the henhouse."

Bates and a council member will meet with City Attorney Zach Cowan Thursday to discuss legal matters regarding medical marijuana.


Contact Gianna Albaum at [email protected]

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